Folks, it’s the final countdown – I’m on my way to Europe – and just like the song and band of the same name, I pulse with anticipation and excitement.
For those who came in late, I’m Cam Hassard, Melbourne-based writer-musician and Carryology’s official ‘Berlin Muse’. This May I relocate to Berlin for a year-long odyssey with my partner in creativity, photographer HK. Our mission is to write, play music, take photos, smell the roses and report all the good stuff back to the Carryology tribe.
Thanks to the wise counsel of you and the entire Carryology cabal, HK and I are getting decked out with an awesome carry quiver to house our range of eclectic goods – we’ll be showcasing these in the coming weeks and months alongside gritty Berlin streetscapes and other artsy European tidbits, so sit tight for that.
In the meantime, before I leave, I want to talk sax…
“The RB CONTINENTAL” – soft means tough.
For this Berlin mission I’ll be lugging a 1952 Conn 10M Ladyface vintage Tenor Saxophone, in order to deliver maximum sax crime as I gallivant about the Old World.
To do this properly – and in style – I need the right case to carry the Ladyface around with me.
The Ladyface is a righteous sax – American built for the post-war era, crafted for hot jazz in seedy, sweaty clubs and speakeasies. These particular models are known for their trademark engraving of a fire-haired woman peering from an art deco window on the front bell – hence ‘ladyface’.
Travelling with a saxophone
As you might expect, airline travel and saxes don’t often get along. Musicians are well aware of horror stories involving instruments getting smashed up in cargo holds – one of my band mates from the Melbourne Ska Orchestra had his Baritone Sax busted in style on a flight to the Byron Bay Bluesfest one year, rendering it unplayable; I recall too the story of Dave Carroll, who had his Taylor guitar destroyed by an airline’s baggage handlers in 2008 (Carroll wrote a song about it that caused a PR nightmare, forcing the airline to reimburse for damages).
Ultimately, your best bet when flying is to keep your horn with you at all times. You’d think airlines would be accommodating in this regard – some are cool with it, but many aren’t, and that compensatory ‘fragile’ sticker bound around your case as it plunges into the depths of the baggage hold is going to do little to prevent you from blowing some pretty foul noise the next time you hit a stage.
Getting your horn on board comes down to how compact your case is. There are heaps of case options out there, most either in the ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ categories – soft ones (aka ‘gig bags’) are typically slim and compact, crafted out of leather and canvas, likely to stay with you as you pass customs, though not usually built to withstand much; the hard ones are made to protect, but not even they can guarantee full protection from an airline shellacking.
– So do you chance it with a soft case and cross your keys that you’ll get to chaperone it all the way to the gate?
– Or do you prepare for horn annihilation and take a case that’s been built like the carry equivalent of a 1970s Volvo?
Reunion Blues RB Continental
Though I wasn’t expecting it at first, the Reunion Blues RB Continental gig bag seemed to offer a formidable middle ground. I guess I wasn’t expecting much from it because I was told I’d be road testing a canvas soft case, and this conjured images of a wafer-thin bag made of budget shoe material. Picking the RB up from Carry HQ, I saw that this was no run-of-the-mill sneaker canvas. It looked and felt tough, sleek too – neatly contoured and sexy. Most importantly, it looked as if it would have no problem getting through an airport check-in desk.
Reunion Blues have been making instrument cases for decades, and have built a reputation for creating seriously resilient gear – this they exemplify by their trademark ‘drop test’, whereby they demonstrate their cases’ robustness by hurling instruments encased in them off of two-storey rooftops (see them doing this off the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma here.
I wondered how far the drop test extended. It’s all well and good to throw an electric guitar off a warehouse roof, but I’m thinking a sax probably wouldn’t fare too well. Frankly, I wasn’t game to find out. It takes a certain level of rock stardom to warrant hurling horns off tall buildings.
I’ve been moonlighting with a number of different bands these past couple of years – a 30-piece reggae and ska orchestra; a 10-piece Mexican rocanrol outfit; a 5-piece calypso band where I dress as a circa-1970s cruise ship cabin boy. Then there’s Mojo Juju. Mojo dresses like a pachuco prohibition-era gangster and sings like the love child of Tom Waits and Ella Fitzgerald. To see me off to Berlin, Mojo booked a run of dates under the pseudonym ‘Chucos Suaves’, at ‘Open Studio’, a quaint French gypsy jazz den/creperie in the inner Melbourne suburb of Northcote.
Getting my hands on the RB right before the first show, I peeled off the paper zip protectors to unveil gleaming, heavy-duty silver zips; they felt close to unbreakable, stylish, and carved neatly around the whole main compartment, which flipped open with ease for the Ladyface to lay down in. It was a perfect fit. The rusted amber of the horn looked great against the teal blue velvet of the case interior.
Okay, but what about storage space? Musicians need spots for all those little additional bits and pieces. As well as a blue velvet sheath supplied for your mouthpiece and gooseneck (the curvy detachable top piece that connects the mouthpiece to the sax body), the RB offers a ‘quick stash’ sweeping zip pocket compartment and side pocket for reeds, key oil, extra mouthpieces, and other sundry bits and pieces. For the past decade, I’ve been wrapping my neck and mouthpiece in a pair of orange floral print fisherman pants, wedging them with reed boxes and other stuff into a tiny nook inside my brick of a hard case. The RB was a luxury ride.
It was looking good, but would the RB pass the weight test? Even if the case was compact enough for an airline, there was no guarantee it would be light enough to get it on board. Previous cases had felt like anvils; the RB felt incredibly lightweight by comparison.
But what took me back the most was the handle – thick padded, firm yet malleable, not unlike a stress ball. It sounds ridiculous, but some sort of pleasure response kicks in when you pick this case up – it was so damn pleasant on the palms. What was this incredible handle? The specs were epic:
The RB Continental comes with a Zero-G palm-contoured handle and adjustable shoulder strap…
Zero G! As well as protecting my horn, this thing just might fly me to Berlin. I didn’t even get close to hooking up the shoulder strap (which RB generously provided two of). The handle was drug for the hand.
The more I ogled the specs, the more I was convinced I was road testing a piece of military aeronautics:
The RB comes with a Ballistic Quadraweave exterior, quilted “double helix” interior, high-strength corded edges and seams, and double-stitched with high tensile thread and reinforced at tested stress points.
This was no ordinary canvas, and I was beginning to bury any concern that my horn was vulnerable in this ‘soft’ case:
…a thick shock-absorbing Flexoskeleton, with a unique bell area suspension system…
Ladyface was sitting pretty in this bad boy. Pretty and protected. The flexoskeleton was highly reinforced, made of a high-density multi-layer foam, and knowing the sax was wrapped inside made me feel more at ease than I have with most other cases made of hard wood and plastic. And man did she look gorgeous in there.
It was a cold Friday night. After strapping on some leather cowboy boots, a black velvet coat and bolo tie, I drove to Open Studio to find a cosy crowd sipping wines and munching on crepes by French cocktail tables. Mojo and the boys were setting up gear in the front nook at the window by the entrance. The RB was instantly noticed.
‘Nice case bud – looks like you mean business with that thing.’
‘Chucos Suaves’ pumped out two long sets of smooth blues and soul. It must have been loud because we generated a handful of noise complaints, forcing the venue to close its front door and turn the tiny joint into a heaving mass of sweaty dance floor action. When we finished, I laid Ladyface down in her blue velvet home, and carried her out into the cool Northcote night.
I gave the RB a run at some more shows with two of my other bands the following weekend. The response was similar:
‘Sweet case, bruv!’
‘Looking sharp, amigo.’
As well as other terms of flattery and endearment.
I made each band mate take turns gripping the Zero-G handle, and watched as their pupils dilated.
Reunion Blues claim that their RB is a ‘revolutionary fusion of strength and style’. Did they get there?
Absolutely. All in all, the RB exceeded every expectation I had of it. It looked great, made an impression at every turn and gave ample protection to my vintage gear. Plus, searching airline specs for the Berlin trip, I discovered that the RB comes well under the length, width and depth parameters for plane hand luggage – well under 7kg, even with the Ladyface wedged inside it. Looks like any check-in desk is going to struggle to deny my right to take this sleek bandit aboard.
Next time I write, I’ll be writing from the gritty streets of Kreuzberg, Berlin. In the meantime, crank out some European sax drizzled 1980s power anthems, and stay tuned for the odyssey.